G is for Gender Essentialism

Our father who art in heaven; mother earth; Lord and Lady; Odin all-father…

It’s familiar language, but it doesn’t really apply or appeal to me for a couple of reasons. I am not keen on the gender binary, so the mother/father divide does not fit me well. Personally I had a father, mother and stepfather. I don’t know about the concept of deities as parents, either.

Firstly, the gender divide. Most people I know (including me!) don’t fit neatly into the gender binary, and I don’t know what to make of deities’ genders, if any. I know that genders can be fluid, changeable, across lifetimes and across afternoons. I call Brigid ‘my lady’, though this is just habit. I sincerely dislike the ?Wiccan concept of two deities, male and female (but what about all the other genders?) who epitomise masculine and feminine respectively, in a completely-defined-by-their-biology kind of way. It’s not my experience – male as masculine, female as feminine: gods, how boring. I have been masculine and feminine and neither, all in the space of a hour or a fleeting moment.

Second, deities as parents. Not too sure about that, either. Parents aren’t concepts or archetypes; they’re individuals and can’t be generalised. I was brought up by a depressive alcoholic – but with love and affection. My childhood cannot even be compared with that of my siblings, not really, let alone others. The concept of parents is archetypal (biology again!), but your actual parents aren’t archetypes. My mum isn’t defined by the fact she is a mother, though she is my mother. I don’t think I want a deity to be my mother when I already have a mother – not even if the deity is flawless and your archetypal mother, not a real human person with flaws and differences.

 

It’s all just pondering, really. I know lots of others will have written about this with far more expertise than me, but I like getting my thoughts down in writing. Also, I realise I’ve been writing a lot about things I don’t believe. I find it helpful to be able to outline what I don’t believe in order to work out what I do believe. Paganism is absolutely bloody massive, as many different beliefs as different people, and it can be hard to get a handle on where you want to focus.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “G is for Gender Essentialism

  1. I have been taught that gender IS essential, at least in certain aspects of my tradition of Wicca. First, ‘male’ energy pushes, while ‘female’ energy pulls. ‘Male’ is projective. ‘Female’ is receptive. However, this doesn’t mean that only men are better at being projective or ‘pushing’ energy. What it means is, for a woman, she must access that projective or ‘male’ polarity within her because ‘pushing’ is something that we don’t naturally do.

    Also, gender is essential within the Craft when we are dealing with Rites of Passage. While many Rites of Passage are considered gender neutral, such as Wiccanings and Cross-Over Rites, all Rites of Passage deal with the physical body and aging/reaching certain milestones of the individual. It would be confusing to put a gender queer boy through a pubescent girls Rite of First Blood. It doesn’t matter how much he identifies with the feminine (up to becoming transgendered), he will never be able to have a menstrual cycle, so the women’s blood mysteries are, in general, a moot point. Just as it wouldn’t be advisable to put a pubescent lesbian through the male puberty rites (sorry, the Men’s Mysteries thing I simply can’t be an authority on because I’m a woman…) because in some of them, the boy has to produce semen to prove he has, indeed, reached manhood.

    Those things said, I agree completely with you that the gods need not be gendered. My own, personal, belief is that we add gender, a face, a name, and all of these qualities to be able to wrap our finite minds around that which is infinite. Gender, like pretty much everything else, is our way of putting a nice, pretty box around a thing that is in us which we simply can not comprehend.

    And, please, keep talking about the things you don’t believe in!! It is an EXCELLENT way to determine just, exactly, what you DO believe in!! Great article, by the way!

    Blessings!!

    • I have been taught that gender IS essential, at least in certain aspects of my tradition of Wicca. First, ‘male’ energy pushes, while ‘female’ energy pulls. ‘Male’ is projective. ‘Female’ is receptive. However, this doesn’t mean that only men are better at being projective or ‘pushing’ energy. What it means is, for a woman, she must access that projective or ‘male’ polarity within her because ‘pushing’ is something that we don’t naturally do.

      That’s kind of how I understand Wicca, too, but I don’t think the Wiccan who explained it to me said that won’t don’t naturally access that masculine energy, but that most don’t simply because they are taught not to. On the other hand, just an aside that crossed my mind, with Wicca being a fertility-based religion, and the most potent symbol for a thing being the thing itself, I suspect that a couple enacting the “great rite” with genders reversed would be awkward, but not impossible.

      It would be confusing to put a gender queer boy through a pubescent girls Rite of First Blood. It doesn’t matter how much he identifies with the feminine (up to becoming transgendered), he will never be able to have a menstrual cycle, so the women’s blood mysteries are, in general, a moot point. Just as it wouldn’t be advisable to put a pubescent lesbian through the male puberty rites (sorry, the Men’s Mysteries thing I simply can’t be an authority on because I’m a woman…) because in some of them, the boy has to produce semen to prove he has, indeed, reached manhood.

      So, just out of curiosity, because you seem willing to engage, even if you clearly don’t understand some things, would a girl with Turner’s syndrome, who will *never* menstruate get to have the “rite of first blood”? She’s been female “since birth”, and as an adult can function as “female” in society in every way, but reproductive. Do you imagine that boys born with a penis and all, but some sort of condition that means they’ll never truly produce semen, should access those pubescent rites? Cos these are issues that traditional Wicca doesn’t really address, in addition to the fact that TS/TG issues are quite often dismissed. A friend of mine dated a woman with Turner’s syndrome (don’t believe SVU episodes; it’s *extremely rare* that HRT for women with Turner’s can ever menstruate, much less get pregnant) who was also Pagan, and to be frank, she was occasionally invited to “womb mysteries” by women who knew of her condition, but didn’t think it mattered, but maybe cos they didn’t really understand it. Then there were others who seemed to understand it better, and assumed it made sense not to invite her because it’s something she’d never know firsthand.

      Now, I can’t speak for other TS/TG people who simply want pagan religion to fill the same social function for them as church potlucks and swap-meets used to, who don’t ever see the value in the overlap between physical and spiritual, but the issue for me isn’t that it’s “inappropriate” for transsexual men and women (NOT “queer boys” or “lesbians”) to take part in mystery rites that do address that spiritual/physical overlap for cisgender men and women, it’s the fact that TS/TG people have our own mysteries that traditional Wicca simply does not address, and that Dianic traditions seem willfully ignorant of.

  2. Rhiannon

    For an alternative perspective, have you seen yvonne’s ‘Deities and divinities’ (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2013/03/deities-and-divinity/) which touches on this subject?

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